CONCERNS have been voiced about armed forces visits to Oxfordshire schools.

Campaign group Forces-Watch organised a debate at the Friends Meeting House in St Giles this week.

It saw teachers raise concerns about the frequency of visits, with 170 taking place at 44 Oxfordshire educational establishments in the past year, and were just recruitment drives.

Former SAS soldier Ben Griffin, who quit the Army in 2005 in protest at US troop tactics, told the meeting: “Since World War Two, we have been at conflict every year.

“There has only been one year where we haven’t had a soldier die. Is that the type of society we want our children raised in?”

Mr Griffin said he joined the armed forces after taking part in the cadets at school and had served in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan.

He believed the recruitment process of the forces relied on the glamourised vision of soldiers and the life they led.

His view was backed up by former St Augustine’s (now St Gregory the Great) School headteacher John Prangley, who served in Cyprus while on his national service.

He said: “At our school I found out the Army were invited in every year and I put a stop to that. I used to say ‘this is a non-violent school’.

“But what I do regret is not asking parents for their opinion. I think people need to know how often this happens.”

He added: “When I was younger, people had been through both World Wars, they could remember what it was like. People are now losing that sense of where we have been and the horrors of war.”

Statistics obtained by ForcesWatch showed 44 of the county’s 61 secondary schools and colleges were visited an average of four times in the past 18 months.

Of the 12 schools visited five times or more, one was an independent school and the rest were state schools.

However county and city councillor John Tanner said: “I think people in the armed forces do a very brave and professional job.

“Schools must have a role in dealing with the armed forces because they are a part of life.

“But they must make sure to tell both sides of the story.”

And Oxford Spires Academy headteacher Sue Croft last week told the Oxford Mail: “For some of the students it is a real area of interest to them.

“Whatever your personal views, children have a right to see what is out there.”

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “The armed forces never visit schools for recruitment purposes and only attend by invitation from the school who welcome us in to support school activities that form part of the National Curriculum.

“As an integral part of society and an important, highly valued public service these visits have proven to be of great benefit to pupils, as demonstrated by the fact that the services attend several thousand schools each year.”

The MoD had no idea if Mr Griffin’s fatality figures were correct.